Poker is a fascinating game. It’s not just reckless gambling in the way that casino games like blackjack are. It involves skill, and it’s got many layers.
In fact, there are a lot of good life lessons that you can get from understanding poker. Here are just a few:
1. The importance of posturing
In poker, good players will be able to size up your abilities even before you’ve said a word. The way your handle your chips is usually a telltale sign of your experience level.
When making a bet, if you have to painstakingly count each chip out individually rather than confidently placing stacks of chips on the table, you’ve blown your cover as novice player. Likewise if your chips are all strewn around in front of you instead of stacked in organized piles of 20. Even the way you hold your cards, or if you look at them too often, are signs that you don’t know what you’re doing.
Though these may seem like trivial details, they speak volumes to your experience level–and the more experienced players will take advantage of this information. In life it’s no different.
Often, the difference between coming up short and getting the big sale or winning over a romantic partner comes down to the minute details of posturing. Did you look like you knew what you were doing when you tasted the wine in front of your clients at the restaurant? Did you act like you believed in what you were saying during the presentation? Did you sound confident or creepy when you suggested skinny-dipping at Ocean Beach on the first date (even if you were bluffing…)?
2. Choosing Your Battles
There’s probably no better game than poker to remind you about the concept of choosing your battles. As the song goes, you’ve got to “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.”
In poker as in life, you need to weigh the pros and cons of staying in the hand. It’s not just about how good your cards are or how good your opponents’ cards might be. One of the most important things is to look at how much you’ve invested already, what you stand to lose if you continue, and if the potential reward is big enough to justify the risk.
This is a good reminder that in life, many battles are not worth fighting.
So many of the things that get us riled up and get our blood boiling are a complete waste of time and energy. Like getting bent out of shape in traffic. What’s the upside of trying to making sure the jerk who cut you off knows he’s a jerk? Do you really have enough invested in the situation to care? Will it really make your day or the world any better?
On the other hand, there are many things in life that are worth fighting for (close relationships, for instance)–situations where we’ve already invested time and energy, and blood and tears…and where, although we might be taking a risk, the potential payoff is completely worth the price we might have to pay.
3. The Importance of the Human Element
One of the biggest differences between poker and blackjack is that in poker you’re playing against the other people in the game; in blackjack you’re playing against the house or the deck.
Your success or failure in blackjack really depends on the luck of the draw. Sure, you can be a skilled blackjack player, and maximize your odds of winning by knowing how to play certain situations. But at the end of the day, whether you win or lose depends on what cards come out of the deck. You can’t bluff a hand in blackjack.
In poker, however, entire fortunes can be won and lost because of the human element.
When you’re playing poker, you should be watching what the other players do just as much as (if not more than) your cards. And the more you know about the other players, the more information you’ll get from watching what they do. You know, for instance, that whenever your friend Bob has a bad hand, he takes a long time to bet; but when he’s got a good hand, he bets quickly and then smugly sips his cocktail.
Even if you are mathematically certain you have the best possible hand at the table, you can’t just play the cards and ignore the players–you’d be missing an opportunity. If you act too confident and the other players sense you’ve got an epic hand, they’ll drop out before filling up the pot.
The human element has a huge impact in poker. This is a good reminder for life in general.
There are so many times when we are tempted to just “play the cards” because we think we have a “winning hand.” But we end up forgetting about the human element, and as a result we end up blowing it. People’s egos get bruised, or we miss an opportunity to gain consensus because we are so sure we’ve got the best idea.
4. Methods vs. Results
You can’t play results-oriented poker, you’ve got to play method-oriented poker. There’s a couple reasons for this.
As we’ve already established, poker is a human game–that’s what makes it interesting. You could deal the same exact hands to the same exact people 3 times in a row, and you might get 3 different outcomes. People are not computers, and they don’t always make rational or consistent decisions.
Also, even when you’re playing good poker, sometimes you do have bad beats. It’s possible for people playing crappy poker to win, and for people who are playing well to lose. Sometimes it does just comes down to getting the wrong cards out of that 52-card deck.
However, what’s important is that over time, your overall success will correlate with the sum of your errors. If you are consistently playing poker with the right methods, over time you are more likely to win.
You can’t react to each bad hand–sometimes stuff happens. And you can’t change the way you’re playing because of a bad beat. If you know your methods are sound, you’ve got to just keep on playing.
This is a great life lesson. Even when you know you’re doing the right thing, many times it’s not rewarded–in fact, sometimes you’re punished for it. But you can’t change what you’re doing because of some occasional bad results.
When you know deep down that you’re doing the right thing, you just have to keep on playing, even if the rewards aren’t rolling in just yet.
Weekly Inspiration on How to Become a Better Man
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